One wheelchair basketball player shoots the ball as three others try to block the shot

Pushing Panthers debuts at GSU

“It should have counted!”

The yellow team’s captain went for a two-point shot in the final seconds of the first half, but released the ball milliseconds after the buzzer rang out.

He joined the rest of his team on the sidelines as they joked about their performance and recapped their first foray into wheelchair basketball, a new intramural sport offered through Georgia State University’s Recreation Services.

Though the wheelchair basketball program – known as the Pushing Panthers – had its official intramural debut on Feb. 8 in the Student Recreation Center, it has been in the works for the last few years. College of Education and Human Development Associate Professor Deborah Shapiro, who has conducted extensive research on adapted physical education and disability sport, approached the university’s Office of Disability Services to better understand the recreational programming needs of students with disabilities on campus.

At the time, the office was conducting focus groups about services for students with disabilities on campus and Shapiro added some questions about sports and recreation to learn more about what opportunities these students might want.

“Adapted sport programs are becoming more common at universities,” Shapiro said. “It gives students with disabilities the full university experience. Georgia State is now the second university in the state to offer adapted recreational programming.”

From there, she worked with Recreational Services staff to host an open house for wheelchair basketball this past fall, where about 50 attendees learned rules of the game and put their newfound knowledge to the test in a few scrimmages.

“The fall wheelchair basketball event was a huge success,” said Zac Schneider, assistant director of intramurals at Georgia State. “The idea of hosting an open house that required no registration was to showcase wheelchair basketball with the assistance of trainers, coaches, and players from the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs in a convenient and attractive way.”

The open house’s success continued into this semester, when the first signups for Pushing Panthers yielded five teams of students and staff – many of whom do not have physical disabilities.

Physical therapy graduate student Allison Lock put together a team with some of her classmates and believes the experience will be beneficial not only because she’s likely to work with patients with disabilities, but because it broadens her perspective on disability sport.

“Just because someone has a physical disability doesn’t mean they can’t play like anyone else,” she said. “Physical activity is important for everyone.”

Deborah Shapiro stands with other wheelchair basketball participants

Deborah Shapiro, who has conducted extensive research on adapted physical education and disability sport, helped Georgia State University’s Recreational Services establish the university’s first wheelchair basketball intramural program.

It’s this kind of perspective that Shapiro hopes to learn more about as teams play in a mini-season on Mondays in February. She’s surveying wheelchair basketball participants at the beginning and end of the season to find out how they feel about the physical and mental health benefits of playing wheelchair basketball.

“My research looks at two things,” she explained. “What physical benefits are students experiencing? Does it build physical strength, stamina and endurance? Does it relieve stress? Then, after playing wheelchair sports, do students perceive improvement in their skills and abilities? Are they more interested in becoming consumers of disability sport?”

Shapiro hopes to see Pushing Panthers grow each semester and maybe expand to play teams at other universities in Georgia and beyond. She also will be on hand later this semester when Recreational Services hosts an open house for its next adapted sport: wheelchair football.

As more adapted sports come to the university, more students with disabilities will have what Shapiro calls the “full university experience.” Even the National Collegiate Athletic Association has begun pushing for more programming for students with disabilities.

“This opens the door for more students with disabilities to have access to the same opportunities to play, and gain the same benefits from their academic experience as their peers without disabilities,” Shapiro said.

For more information about intramural programming at Georgia State, visit http://recreation.gsu.edu/intramurals.